Vietnam and Laos Revealed
15 Days / 14 Nights
Day 1: Arrive Hanoi. Old Quarter Tour and Water Puppets
We arrive in Hanoi and transfer to our accommodation. We will complete the day by exploring the bustling Old Quarter on foot. We walk through the vibrant streets market before exploring a real hidden tube house before resting and enjoy a tasty Vietnamese coffee while soaking up the fascinating view of the old quarter and Hoan Kiem lake from the terrace of the house.
This evening, attend a water-puppet theatre performance. The art of water puppetry began a thousand years ago, possibly in the flooded rice fields of Vietnam. Puppeteers today stand in waist-high water and manipulate their charges in such a way that you can’t help but be swept up in the legend being told. Music companies the action (be sure to listen for the dan bau, an instrument made from a dried watermelon rind that produces haunting sounds).
Day 2: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, Museum of Ethnology.
You’ll have the whole day to explore Vietnam’s capital city. Your guide will take you to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century, and a popular attraction, as is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, his simple stilt house where he lived and worked, and the museum dedicated to his memory.
In the afternoon, we will process to the striking Ethnology Museum which introduces us to the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam and visit some typical hilltribe houses at the outdoor museum.
Day 3: Transfer to Halong Bay. Overnight aboard Traditional Junk.
We depart Hanoi to Halong City, passing through the Red River Delta with a break on the way. Upon arrival, our crew welcomes you on board our junk with a refreshing fruit juice. Enjoy lunch with fresh seafood (vegetarians catered for) while cruising into misty Bai Tu Long Bay to see the amazing karsts with different formations, such as Teapot Islet, Dragon Islet, Vung Oan Islet. Stop to visit the Thay cave enroute and have time for swimming and kayaking.
After dinner, night fishing is available upon request. Enjoy a quiet night in your cozy cabin.
Day 4: Morning Cruising the Bay. Transfer to Hanoi and on to Mai Chau.
Early risers can have a swim or enjoy a morning view of the bay’s landscape with a cup of tea or coffee, fresh fruits and cake. Sitting on the upper deck, you can enjoy the breath-taking beauty of the rocky islands rising from the crystal-clear water of the Bay.
Visit Vong Vieng floating village by sampan. Meet the locals, call at floating school and fish farms. More time to swim in the middle of the bay. While the junk cruises back to Ha Long city, a la carte lunch will be served. Check out at 11:00 and back at the Jetty by 12.00. Later we transfer back to the Vietnamese capital for an overnight stay in Hanoi.
Day 5: Hanoi to Mai Chau. Explore the Valley.
Leaving Hanoi early in the morning, we will take a 4-hour-drive to Mai Chau with a small stop for refreshing. Upon arrival in Mai Chau we will be welcome by the host. After taking a rest, a small walk around the village is recommended and gives you a glimpse of the White Thai lifestyle. Back to the local family to have lunch and have more interaction with the local people.
Overnight in Mai Chau.
Day 6: Trekking around Mai Chau.
Today we will explore the White Thai villages of Pom Coong and Lac to see the daily life of the local people. The walk is light, along the rice fields on the mountain foot. You will get an impression of the simple life of this ethnic minority and will be amazed at the friendly welcome. They specialise in weaving brocade products and are happy to show visitors their skills. The village is operated as a community co-operative, set up by the people themselves. We return to Mai Chau for dinner.
Day 7: Mai Chau to Vieng Xai via Border.
Today we leave the Mai Chau Valley
and travel along beautiful mountain roads to the remote border crossing of Nam Xai and Na Meo. The road climbs into areas of striking karst scenery and there are several photo opportunities along the way. After completing immigration formailities and changing vehicles, we continue our journey into Laos. We eventually arrive at the remote outpost of Vieng Xai, a legendary place during the Secret War in Laos, a sort of Cu Chi Tunnels cast in stone. Overnight in Vieng Xay.
Day 8: Visit Pathet Lao Caves at Vieng Xai.
After breakfast, we travel to the Pathet Lao revolutionary headquarters at Vieng Xai. Set in karst limestone hills that are riddled with caves, this is where the senior communist leadership spent their time directing the war in the 1960s and early 1970s. Long off-limits to tourists, they are now an adventurous destination for those with a keen interest in the secret war in Laos.
The caves are stunningly set amid towering cliffs and must have been unassailable by land or air. We visit the most important caves here including Tham Souphanouvong, which originally housed the 'Red Prince', and Tham Than Kaysone, which was used by the first communist President Kaysone Phomvihane.
On the way back to Sam Neua, we stop at a Hmong village to learn about the local way of life in this remote part of northeast Laos. We also visit Tat Nam Neua, a striking 80m-high waterfall. Overnight in Vieng Xai.
Day 9: Vieng Xai to Phonsavan by Road.
We depart early in the morning from your hotel for traveling to Phonsavan. Located 350 from Vieng Xai, Phonsavan is the capital of Xieng Khuang province which is famous for two reasons: the most heavily bombed in Laos and the site of mysterious Plain of Jars. On the way, you have a chance to enjoy a stunning mountainous landscape of Laos with green grass and sparse forests of pine trees. Stop over on the way at local restaurant for lunch with fresh food of the mountain. Continue transferring to Phonsavan in the afternoon. Have dinner and stay overnight in Phonsavan.
Day 10: Visit Sites around Plain of Jars.
After breakfast, we drive to site 01 of Plain of Jars for a visit which date back at least 2000 years. It is such a mystery, the Plain of Jars, a plateau 50km wide scattered with over 300 stone jars. The 2000 year-old jars range in size from one to three metres in height, and are thought to have been used as funeral urns. We continue by car to Site 02 and hike to Site 03. After exploring three sites with interesting story about the Indochina War, we drive to Muong Khoun for lunch. Muong Khoun was once the capital of Xieng Khoang Province. There is time to visit temples such as Wat Chom Phet and Wat That Phoun which were built the same time as That Luang in Vientiane. We can also visit some colonial building and old Lao Military Base that was seriously damaged by American bombs. On the way back to Phonsavan, we can stop by village where local people collect scrap metals which are partly from UXO and bomb shell.
Day 11: Phonsovan to Luang Prabang by Road.
We start early in the morning after breakfast for a first sightseeing to the mysterious Plain of Jars which is littered with clumps of large stone vessels, believed to be ancient funerary urns. The origin of these enormous jars is unclear. After the sightseeing, we continue traveling 200 km to Luang Prabang. Your lunch will be at a nice local ethnic village on the way. Enjoy the special fresh food here with pure pork, chicken, evergreen vegetables. Arrive in Luang Prabang in the afternoon. Check –in your hotel and free for leisure in the evening. Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 12: Luang Prabang Sights, including Wat Xieng Thong and National Museum.
In this morning, we begin to explore the historic town of Luang Prabang. We walk along Sisavangvong St, the heart of the old quarter and explore the National Museum, set in the former Royal Palace. Built in 1904, the palace is a blend of Laotian and French influences and houses many royal treasures. The most important item is the solid gold Pha Bang Buddha, a gift from the Khmer King to his son-in-law, Fa Ngum, founder of the Lao Kingdom.
We then continue into the centre of Luang Prabang, exploring the narrow alleys that criss-cross the town, stopping to enjoy some views over the mighty Mekong River. We follow the river until we reach Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most celebrated temples in Laos. A magnificent structure, this is the quintessential Luang Prabang temple with a graceful sweeping roof that reaches almost to the floor. We then make our way to the beautiful temple of Wat Saen, originally built in 1718. There is the option of climbing Mt Phousi to explore the small temple here and enjoy sunset over this charming town. We then return to our hotel.
Day 13: Wat Xieng Thong and Pak Ou Caves.
This morning, we travel to Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most celebrated temples in Laos. A magnificent structure, this is the quintessential Luang Prabang temple with a graceful sweeping roof that reaches almost to the floor. One of the only temples not to have been destroyed by successive invaders, this was originally constructed in 1560. We visit the spiritual sim, the focal point of the temple, as well as viewing the 'tree of life' mosaic on the rear wall. We also take a look at the impressive golden royal funerary chariot.
We then take a boat up the Mekong River, passing abandoned riverside temples and isolated villages. Our destination is the Pak Ou Caves, a sacred spot where thousands upon thousands of Buddhas were hidden for safekeeping during earlier invasions. Pilgrims have since added their own offerings and the caves are literally overflowing with Buddhas. After exploring the caves, we cross the river and have a local lunch on the banks of the Nam Ou River. We dine in traditional thatch bungalows overlooking a dramatic cliff face. We then return by boat to Luang Prabang and leave the rest of the afternoon free to enjoy the town.
Day 14: Kuang Si Falls and Minority Villages.
This morning we travel south on the Mekong River to a traditional pottery village. We explore the village and learn how they make traditional clay pots for rice wine storage and other uses. We might have our very own pottery class with one of the master potters from the village.
We continue downriver to where we join our vehicle for the rest of the journey to the Kuang Si Falls. This beautiful series of waterfalls spills into the jungle and has several inviting pools for a swim. We walk through the forest, passing pool after pool of turquoise waters, white limestone rock and lush green forest. We find a quiet spot for a picnic lunch and then can continue upwards to the top of the main falls. Later in the afternoon, we return to Luang Prabang, stopping at a minority village along the way to learn about their traditional way of life.
Day 15: Optional Cooking Class at Tamarind before Departure.
Pick-up at your hotel to meet up with the Chef at Tamarind restaurant at 0900am. Then take on a Tuk Tuk tour with Chef to the local food market for today main ingredients. After that, heading out to our stunning lake-side open air pavilions where you learn how to cook 06 Lao traditional dishes including sticky rice; varieties of 'Jeow'; lemongrass stuffed with chicken; fish steamed in banana leaves; Orlarm, a special local dish; and dessert. Enjoy your own cooked lunch and we will bring you back to town at around 0300pm. (Vegetarians are very easily accommodated)